SALTARA, Italy (VN) — When Movistar rider Alex Dowsett was diagnosed with hemophilia at 18 months, doctors from Great Britain’s National Health Service told his parents that swimming would be the best way for their son to keep the condition at bay and stay healthy.
Twenty-three years later, Dowsett won his first grand-tour stage, a 54.8km time trial at the Giro d’Italia, the biggest victory of his career. At the winner’s press conference, he credited his rare bleeding disorder for his success.
“In a roundabout way, if not for my hemophilia, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Dowsett said. “I was like a fish, swimming five or times a week, and I think because of the fitness I built up, it made me fast on the bike.”
On Saturday in Saltara, Dowsett pulled off the unthinkable, beating compatriot — and former Team Sky teammate — Bradley Wiggins in a grand-tour time trial.
Dowsett’s winning margin was just 10 seconds, a difference Wiggins would have likely overcome if not for a puncture and bike change during the first half of the race. That was beside the point for Dowsett, whose victory helped ease the sting of teammate Beñat Intxausti’s losing the maglia rosa to Italian Vincenzo Nibali.
The stage win came as vindication for Dowsett, a young British rider who, cast aside at Britain’s top pro team, made the unlikely move to the Spanish Movistar squad over the off-season — in part to have an opportunity at the sport’s biggest events.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Sky, I learned a heck of a lot,” Dowsett said. “I’ve often said that for my first two years, as a neo-pro, Sky was the best place for me.
“But I wasn’t getting the rides at big races, and I saw where Sky’s ambitions were going. I didn’t see opportunities, and a key thing I was told was that it was due to my lack of experience.
“Movistar was keen to have me on board, but the real factor was they wanted to put me into big races. They showed faith in me, and I’m massively grateful. This week they rested me as much as they could, coming into the time trial. They had faith in me, so I am glad to be able to repay them with this stage win.”
Dowsett came into cycling through Britain’s singular national obsession with time trials. As a junior he was invited into British Cycling’s Olympic Development Program, and then its prestigious U23 Academy. His skills against the clock didn’t translate into the team pursuit, so he stuck with road time trials. After spending 2010 with Trek-Livestrong, he made the jump to Sky in 2011.
“I think I’m fundamentally a TT specialist,” Dowsett said. “Time trials are a side of the sport I have always loved, both the purity of it, and the technology.”
During his pro career, Dowsett has had promising results, such as the British national TT championship, in 2011 and 2012, and eighth at the 2012 world time trial championship. However, his Giro stage win eclipses everything, and he now ranks among the sport’s best.
“I work hard at it, day in and day out, but I wasn’t expecting to win today, given how much climbing there was, and also how technical it was,” Dowsett said. “I was in two minds. I thought it was not dissimilar to [TT] worlds last year, where I did a fairly good ride. I also knew there are a lot of climbers here who can also time trial, so I wasn’t sure how it would play out. I would have been content with a top-10 finish.”
Dowsett rolled out early, three hours before the main GC contenders. After posting the fastest time of the day, he sat in the hot seat at the finish line and waited. And waited.
“The wait was horrible,” Dowsett said. “There were three standout moments. One, when [Astana’s Tanel] Kangert came in very close to my time [third on the stage, at 0:14]. Two, when I was up on Wiggins at the split, although I knew he’d finish strongly. And three, with Nibali, when I knew the reverse would happen; I knew he’d be good in the first section, but hopefully I would have the edge on him on the flat power sections; luckily for me, that was the case.”
After the race Wiggins was quick to congratulate Dowsett on his win, as were other high-profile names from the peloton, such as Taylor Phinney, a former teammate at Trek-Livestrong, and Mark Cavendish, with whom Dowsett trains in Great Britain.
Best of all, though Dowsett had his mother, father and sister at the finish line to celebrate his big moment. And in his own way, winning was his thanks to his family for encouraging him to stay active in the face of his potentially dangerous blood condition.
“If my parents hadn’t looked after me, I don’t think I’d be here [at the stage winner’s press conference] right now,” Dowsett said. “I want to send a message out to young hemophiliacs, because it’s a common misconception that if your kids are hemophiliacs, you should wrap them in cotton wool. It’s not the case.”
Instead, on Saturday in Saltara, Dowsett was wrapped in a Union Jack, atop the winner’s podium, celebrating the biggest win of his young career.